BIG RESTAURANTS ARE BACK. OR ARE THEY?
At first glance nowadays, the scene in New York — where so many dining trends are set — suggests that we have taken a step back to those heady days of moneyed early-’90s excess, when restaurants were oversized and bold. Think back to London, 1993, when the late Terence Conran dramatically re-launched Quaglino’s in St. James’s. It’s grand setting, high style, and expansive seating (280) were combined with such surprisingly decent food for the circumstances that a whole new term was coined to describe the phenomenon: the gastrodome.
Now, to name just a few others… Manhattan has Danny Meyer’s Ci Siamo, a live-fire Italian restaurant spanning a grand art deco–inspired 8,000 square feet on West 33rd, near Hudson Yards. Avra Rockefeller Center is a posh and massive (17, 000 square feet, 500 seats) market-driven Greek seafood restaurant on 6th Avenue, designed by the ne plus ultra Rockwell Group. And there’s La Grande Boucherie, an 11,500-square- foot marble-tiled brasserie on West 53rd. None of them, despite their formidable size, has easily procured reservations.
Nonetheless, their build expense, rent costs, staffing needs, and general ambition seem incongruous with the times. And they are. Because even though they opened over just the past two years, these restaurants were conceptualized long before. Today they are testament to just how good things were — before they weren’t. So, we find them cheering, hope they endure, and look forward to those prosperous days when they might catch on again.
— MICHAEL WHITE